11 May 2015
Given its transboundary nature, marine fishing inevitably carries an important political and diplomatic function, particularly in waters where disputes exist. It is no secret that China, Vietnam, and other countries in the Asia-Pacific have considered fishermen important players in strengthening its maritime presence in disputed waters. They are provided with financial and political support to undertake fishing activities in the contested waters, while countries have been known to deploy fishing boats to confront each other during maritime crises. For instance, both China and Vietnam dispatched fishing vessels during the recent 981 oil rig row.
In recent years, amid rising tensions in the South China Sea and East China Sea, the region has witnessed a growing number of incidents involving Chinese fishing boats. Some of these incidents have sparked tensions between China and its neighbors. While it is an exaggeration for some commentators to conclude that China is waging a “People’s War” at sea, there is no denying that the Chinese government has taken steps to strengthen the fishing industry’s role in protecting the country’s maritime interests in the disputed waters and that developing a strong fishing fleet is being considered an integral approach to become a sea power.
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jingping, during a visit to the Tanmen fishing town of Qionghai city in Hainasn province, advised the maritime militia members to “not only lead fishing activities, but also collect oceanic information and support the construction of islands and reefs.” Some Chinese scholars and security experts have argued that maritime militia should be China’s first line of defense in disputed waters, particularly in the South China Sea. In the past few years, several coastal cities in China have established fishing militia forces.
… Zhang Hongzhou is an associate research fellow from the China Programme at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
IDSS / Online
Last updated on 18/11/2015